Missing Sinead O’Connor came out of left field. Can’t say what led to pondering her 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live. A permanent playlist resident, O’Connor’s haunting voice and lyrics captivated. I couldn’t have been less prepared for what happened – Sinead O’Connor blew my mind.
Trying to think of anything remotely similar, all I came up with was Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising the black pride salute during the 1968 Olympics. (linked below) In both cases, conviction took precedence over consequence. In both cases, peaceful symbolic gestures imploded careers. These days it’s tough to fathom “celebrity” with courage to do the same.
O’Connor dutifully performed an opening number with her band – as SNL wound down, O’Connor appeared starkly alone, launching a cappella into Bob Marley’s War. Nobody seemed to notice insertion of “sexual abuse” for the lyrics “racial injustice”. O’Connor ended with “fight the real enemy”, producing a photograph of Pope John Paul II, which she ripped into pieces.
Stunned silence as NBC cut to commercial. According to insiders, NBC switchboards lit up with 4,484 complaints. Eventually the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) fined NBC 2.5 million for airing objectionable content. NBC has since edited out footage, forbidding anyone to re-broadcast the photo ripping scene.
Oh man Sinead, wherever you are, know your courage is respected. Defining moments in protest history don’t come along often.
Just because O’Connor desecrated an image of the Pope on national television, shouldn’t eradicate her fine work. One of my favorite O’Connor songs….